How committed is Scotland to combatting climate change? At any cost? Or are there limits to what we’d give up?

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Dr Antonios Katris, Research Associate, CEP

Dr Antonios Katris
Research Associate, Centre for Energy Policy

16 November 2017

Climate change is an, almost, unanimously recognised threat to the future of mankind but also one that is associated with reduced quality of life at present. The majority of the world’s governments are seeking to implement measures to mitigate climate change and simultaneously reduce local pollution levels. However, to achieve environmental targets, individuals will need to change their behaviours.

Fuel poverty

This poses a problem to the implementation of the policies. A large number of households, both in Scotland and the UK as a whole, are considered to be in fuel poverty, meaning that often they cannot meet their energy needs and/or have to choose between meeting their energy needs or other basic needs such as food. When a household has such monster on its doorstep, how likely is it to change its consumption behaviour in line with the policy targets? And how likely is it that behaviour changes are also associated with increased livings costs and/or additional expenses?

On the other hand, statistics indicate that people are often set in their own ways and they somehow struggle to embrace change even if it’s to their own benefit. Perhaps the most characteristic example is the relatively high number of households that are on expensive Standard Variable energy tariffs and opt not to change to another tariff that would reduce their energy bills. With this kind of behaviour already demonstrated, how can we drive households to get out of their comfort zone and start behaving in ways that will facilitate the achievement of our climate change targets?

How to change behaviour

Of course policy makers have tools in their disposal to influence and/or enforce behavioural changes. The issue with those tools though is that unless they are properly implemented they could remain unused or cause widespread discontent amongst the citizens. Moreover, they can introduce further social injustices that could increase inequality.

For instance, a regulation requiring all residences to comply with certain energy efficiency standards, or else a fine will be imposed, is a tool that wealthy households could possibly adhere to, or even be already in compliance, but for underprivileged households it would be an additional burden if it isn’t well thought out and executed. 

These are the types of questions that we will seek to explore in Do the Scottish people care enough about climate change to 'do their bit' in meeting our ambitions? on Thursday 14 December. Behaviour change is probably one of the most difficult areas to influence as people often react in ways that cannot be predicted in advance. It is crucial then to specify which would be the optimal consumer behaviours in relation to our policy goals and why we seek to encourage these behaviours.

And equally important is to identify how the existing incentives, carrot and stick and other related tools can be used to try to achieve the desired results of meeting climate change targets in a fair way.  

Tags: Energy